A look into the paleo diet
by Tobias • 5 minutes read
Last updated: 29 Aug, 2022
Gronk ventures out from his cave and surveys his surroundings, basked in the rising sun. The day has begun, he gathers the men of his tribe and they strive forth into the wild, with only their wits, crudely carved spears, and a loin cloth a piece.
This is the thought that strikes most people when they first hear about the paleo diet AKA the caveman diet. No longer confined to the fantasies of wannabe hunter gatherers, the paleo diet is a very real attempt to create the perfect diet based in anthropological science.
The logic goes that humanity as we know it with its trans fats and corn syrup based foods is only a very modern invention and our bodies are poorly suited to its digestion. Which, on the surface at least, seems like sound logic. After all, if the entire history of hominids was condensed to a 9-5 working day, the last century would exist after 4:59. This example shows where the basis of this diet comes from, the fear of modern foods is not totally unfounded. For example, modern diseases such as Obesity, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease are becoming more and more common with every passing decade and modern medical science is dumbfounded as to the cause.
Perhaps the solution to all of these modern ailments is a complete and total overhaul of what we class as edible. Just because our body is able to digest something isn't enough evidence to suggest that it should be digesting it. Our recent ancestors definitely didn't have access to Sour Patch Kids or a McShake™. If the average person were to read the ingredients that go into these "foods" then they will likely only understand a few of the names listed. It is perhaps telling that in schools the term "home economics" is now replaced with "food technology" and some go so far as to call it "food science". The ingredients in many modern ultra-processed foods are more akin to what may be found in a chemistry set than in your grandmother's larder.
The solution may lie in reverting back to an ancient way of eating. The paleolithic diet or "paleo diet" is an attempt to do just that. In essence it is a very simple principle, eating only the foods that our stone age ancestors would have had access to. Things like meats, fish, vegetables and fruits. Removing all modern inventions such as chocolates, pasta and bread. By doing this, the practitioners of this diet hope that they can repair some of the damage to our bodies. But where is the line drawn on what constitutes a modern food, would all beef have to be grass fed? As our ancestors surely weren't feeding grain to the ancient wild cattle that they hunted. Fruit was completely seasonal so perhaps we should only eat certain fruits when they would have been readily available.
In principle, this diet does seem very healthy, very minimal snacking and eating only complete meals of lean meats and vegetables with a small amount of fruit added. But, as with all things, the devil is in the details. For example, any European person would have no access to potatoes as these were only brought over from the new world in the 1500's. But this immediately brings up another, slightly more troubling issue, how we can be sure of what our ancestral heritage is? Whether I am meant to eat like a fisherman on the East coast of England, a hunter in the Swiss Alps or a tribesman of the Mongolian steppe is a complete mystery. For most people, myself included, we can only really be sure of our ancestry back to our great grandparents, maybe our great great grandparents, beyond that, the lineage is unclear and at best we can make an educated guess.
Whilst we have an idealised vision of what a hunter gatherer may look like, lean and muscular clad in the pelts of their most recent meal. Beyond an acceptance that they would mostly likely have a good level of fitness just to survive, we don't know for sure that they were actually in good physical health. They may have had deficiencies in their diet, without agriculture and domesticated animals and the produce they create, early man may not have been able to get enough calcium, vitamins or minerals to maintain their overall health.
The largest issue with the Paleo diet is that we actually don't know for sure what early humans ate. We have indications based on refuse piles that have been uncovered and even images drawn on the inside of caves. But the issue is these are only indications, just because our stone age brethren painted a bear on the wall of a cave doesn't necessarily mean that it was on the menu, just as likely the other way round. An often fervently held belief is that there was no cereals in our diet until the dawn of agriculture, but we don't know this to be true. Our ancestors must have had the taste for it and appreciated it as a component of their diet before they went through all the trouble of attempting to grow it.
The scientific community is still discussing amongst themselves about the extent at which our bodies have evolved since prehistory. Whether our gut biome can survive, and in fact, thrive on our moden meals or if new diets of processed foods are diminishing the variety of gut flora in our bodies and therefore our ability to break down certain foods.
To surmise, it does seem that the paleo diet does offer health benefits, and studies have shown that it may help moderate our blood sugar and if practised properly could help overweight people lose weight, as a relatively new eating protocol the jury is still out on the long term effects that eating this way could have. I think a good takeaway from this diet would be to reduce the amount of ultra-processed and processed foods we have in our diets such as chips, chocolate and pizza and replace them with minimally processed foods such as lean meats and fruit and vegetables which have been proven time and time again to be needed to maintain good health.
I would suggest to our readers to try and slowly work the diet into your lifestyle to try and gain some of the benefits of the diet whilst minimising the risks. As always with changes to your diet, please consult a medical professional before attempting anything.
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